STATEMENT FOR VIRGINIA STATE LEGISLATORS:
NASW Virginia Chapter Opposes Efforts to restrict access to and information about an individual’s right to bodily autonomy
The Virginia Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers opposes any effort to further restrict access to, information about, performance of, or criminalization of actions and private decisions that infringe on an individual’s right to bodily autonomy. As the largest behavioral group in the country and in Virginia, we know that abortion is healthcare, and that all individuals have the right to freedom of choice in accessing essential health care services, especially their reproductive health.
The overturning of Roe vs. Wade will go down as a dark day in America’s history. As social workers, we see firsthand the trauma and mental and physical harm of unplanned pregnancies, including those caused by rape, incest, and domestic and sexual violence. Forced pregnancy is a grave violation of human rights and dignity.
The U.S. Supreme Court has now sentenced anyone who can get pregnant to the political whims and extremism of state lawmakers. This is especially true for people of color, who will be disproportionately affected and who already have less access to reproductive care. In fact, abortion bans are part of intertwined systems of oppression that deny many vulnerable people access to their rights.
Besides people of color, the impact of this decision will also fall heavily on people with disabilities, people who live in rural areas, young people, undocumented people, and people who are low income.
Numerous bills currently under consideration by the Virginia General Assembly are not based on medical evidence and longstanding research about reproductive health and justice, health risk management, and socio-economic and other impacts on individual and familial lives, including those of unwanted babies.
With the January 2023 introduction of bills such as SB1284 (total ban on abortion), SB1385 (15-week ban), and SB1483 (24-week ban), anti-choice legislators and their allies have been pushing again for greater restrictions or a total ban. For some bill sponsors, even rape, incest, or threat to the mother’s life are not enough to allow an abortion. Instead, individuals would either die or be required to carry for nine months the aftermath of sexual violence followed by a potentially lifelong recovery from trauma.
Additional bills in this session revisit old, medically unnecessary regulations—all efforts to add to the expense, hassle, and stress of pregnant individuals seeking abortion care. Aain, such barriers especially impact people of color, those with low incomes, and/or those living in Virginia counties without nearby abortion facilities.
Pregnancy and birth also are not risk-free; more than 700 people die in pregnancy or delivery complications the U.S. annually, the highest rate among wealthy countries in the world and disproportionately involving birthers of color (Centers for Disease and Prevention Control, 2023).
Virginia already has strict regulations regarding abortion. Parental notification and consent are required for minors wanting an abortion. Third-trimester abortions can only be provided if the client’s health or life are in danger and with agreement among multiple doctors. Public funds go only to abortion clients who have experienced rape, incest, fetal impairment, or life endangerment. These same situations are required for insurance coverage for pregnant public employees, as well—and they are extremely difficult to prove.
As a result, it’s not easy to get an abortion in this state, even though it is legal. Just traveling to access this care can be a serious barrier for patients seeking services. In 2017, for instance, 93% of counties in Virginia had no clinics that provided abortions, and 80% of Virginia women lived in those counties. An estimated one-third of abortion clients were forced to travel at least 25 miles to access a facility in 2014.
The Guttmacher Institute, a research nonprofit that tracks health trends, especially related to abortion healthcare, found that Virginia had 32 facilities that could provide an abortion (2017), only 16 of which provide abortions to more than half their clientele. The bulk of these facilities, however, devote most of their work to providing other traditional “women’s health” services. The number of available healthcare facilities offering abortion services also continues to drop.
So does the number of abortions performed. In 2017, 17,210 abortions were provided in Virginia, an 18% decline from 2014 rates (Guttmacher Institute, most recent statistics available).
People’s bodily autonomy is core to a free society and to the mental and physical health and well-being of Virginia’s population. For social workers, our NASW Code of Ethics requires that we advocate against proposals that would remove self-determination in how our clients live their lives. NASW and NASW Virginia remains resolute in our commitment to protect reproductive rights and freedoms, and we will continue to mobilize on all levels to do what is necessary to protect reproductive rights.